Sundance TV is currently showing the series Ministry of Evil: The Twisted Cult of Tony Alamo. Alamo and his wife Susan were popular Evangelical evangelists and TV preachers in the 1970s-1990s, and are still revered by many people. Ministry of Evil details the Alamos’ rise out of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s to cultism and, later, Tony’s incarceration for sexually assaulting children. The program is a disturbing look at how easily and quickly Evangelical churches can become full blown cults. The seeds of cultism can be found in virtually every Evangelical church. That why I consider Evangelicalism a psychologically and, at times, physically harmful sect. No, I am not saying all Evangelical churches/sects are cults, but many of them are. As I watched Ministry of Evil, it was easy for me to pick out the similarities between the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and Alamo’s Pentecostalism.
Tony and Susan Alamo are dead but, sadly, their cult lives on. (Tony died in prison in 2017.) For some True Believers®, no amount of evidence will convince them that their prophets (and gods) are false.
My editor suggested that I define for readers my use of the word cult. According to TheSage VII dictionary, a cult is:
An interest followed with exaggerated zeal.
A system of religious beliefs and rituals.
A religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extremist, or false.
Followers of an unorthodox, extremist, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
Followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices.
Most religions, then, are cults. Evangelicalism, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, Islam, and Roman Catholicism most certainly are, as are many other sects and churches. Of course, these groups don’t they are cults. In their minds, cults are other sects beside theirs; other beliefs beside theirs. Every sect believes they are right, and all other sects are false. Welcome the wonderful world of religion!
TheSage dictionary is the primary dictionary I use when writing. You can purchase it for $10 — a worthy investment.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Tiffanie Irwin, pastor of Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, New York, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Eight other church members were sentenced for their parts in the crime.
The pastor of a small church where two brothers were beaten for hours during a counseling session that she called pleaded guilty on Friday to manslaughter and assault.
Three other church members admitted to less serious charges for their roles in the all-night beatings that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and injured Christopher Leonard, 17, last October.
Word of Life Christian Church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her brother Joseph Irwin and mother and son church members Linda Morey and David Morey were the last of nine people charged to be convicted in the attack.
Investigators said the attack took place after the brothers discussed leaving the congregation.
Joseph Irwin and the Moreys each pleaded guilty to assault.
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara called the case ‘a terrible tragedy.’
‘I can only hope that Luke can rest in peace, Chris can get on with his life,’ McNamara said.
The victims’ parents and half-sister and the pastor’s mother and a second brother were among those charged after members of the secretive church took the bloodied body of Lucas Leonard to a hospital, where doctors initially thought he had been shot.
Authorities later found his badly injured brother still inside the converted New Hartford school building that housed the church and living space for its leaders.
Christopher Leonard testified at an earlier hearing that Tiffanie Irwin asked his family and some others to stay behind for a meeting after an eight-hour Sunday service last October.
Over the next 14 hours, he said, he and his brother were pummeled in their torsos and genitals with an electrical cord.
McNamara has said the brothers were ordered during the beating to repent for a variety of sins, including using a voodoo doll.
Police have said there was no evidence to support a claim by their half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, that they had molested her children.
Ferguson was convicted of manslaughter and assault after a non-jury trial in July.
The only defendant to decline a plea deal, she was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison.
The victims’ parents, Deborah and Bruce Leonard, pleaded guilty to assault.
The church’s matriarch, Traci Irwin, and her son Daniel Irwin, a deacon, admitted to counts of unlawful imprisonment.
Sentencings are scheduled for December and January.
As of January 9, 2017 the disposition of the cases against the nine people involved on the assault on Lucas Leonard are as follows:
Bruce Leonard, the father, who whipped both boys during the session pleaded guilty to felony assault was sentenced to 10 years in state prison.
Deborah Leonard, the mother, who whipped them during the session pleaded guilty to felony assault, and was sentenced to five years in state prison.
On September 1, 2016 half sister Sarah Ferguson was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted in July 2016 of manslaughter and assault.
Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, age 29, who called for the counseling session and oversaw its organization was sentenced on Dec. 19, 2016 to 12 years in state prison for manslaughter.
Joseph Irwin was sentenced on Dec. 19 to eight years in prison for gang assault.
David Morey was sentenced on Jan. 9, 2017 to five years in prison for assault.
Linda Morey who pulled the power cord out of the closet was sentenced on Jan. 9 to five years in prison for assault.
Traci Irwin, 50, and Daniel Irwin, 25, both pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment. Traci Irwin, who pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful imprisonment in the first degree, has been sentenced to one year for each count. Daniel Irwin received two years in jail for his role in the death of Lucas Leonard.
This is the one hundred and thirty-ninth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Pentecostal R.W. Schambach healing the sick and disabled.
This is the one hundred and thirty-eighth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Pentecostal A.A. Allen healing a man of cancer.
Hello to all and much love. My name is Melvin Heiniger and I am the pastor at Green Chapel Redeemed Church. Thank you so much for taking 5 minutes to visit our website. I truly believe that every individual must evaluate their life. and make one very important decision . What will happen to me when I pass from this life? Will I go to a place called Heaven, or wind up in a place called hell where there awaits only suffering and pain. Some may say that if we do good things, we will go to heaven. According to the Bible, That is not so.
Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
1 John 1:8-9 says, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I guess now we know that we all make mistakes.
Now for the Great news! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” Wow… isn’t it nice to know we don’t have to worry anymore! Romans 10:13 says “for whosoever shall call upon the name of the lord, shall be saved.” That “Whosoever” means YOU!!
I must ask, do you know Jesus as your Lord and savior? If not, do you want to? Is something inside of you saying “this feels right?” I hope you will say this little prayer with me and accept Jesus!
Just say, Jesus, I repent of my sins and make you my lord. I believe you came and died for me. Then arose that I could make Heaven my home. Help me be what you have called me to be!!! Congratulations. You are now a Christian!
Welcome to the family of God! Please feel free to call and share your life changing experience with me! God bless and keep you!
Good news! I prayed the prayer and I am now a — drum roll, please — Christian!
Lakeview United Methodist Church, somewhere on a back road in Northeast Indiana, Michael Lamarr, pastor.
The church does not have a website. I have awarded Lakeview the Crooked Lettering of the Year Award, given to the church that can’t be bothered to cash in a certificate of deposit to pay for a professionally lettered sign.
Lick Creek Church of the Brethren, Bryan, Ohio, Dr. Nancy Berkheiser, interim pastor. Organized in 1853 — the first church organization in Williams County — Lick Creek is known for “steak suppers, homemade ice cream and made from scratch apple dumplings.”
According to the church’s website, Lick Creek “follows the teaching of Jesus.” The church’s mission is to “provide spiritual direction, unity and purpose to all people by continuing the work of Jesus Christ peacefully, simply, together.”
If I were asked to give advice to this church, I would tell them…immediately, without delay, gather up the book the stupid sign message came from and burn it. Baseball bears no resemblance to Lent and Easter. In the future, THINK before putting a lame message on the sign. Hint: 99.99 percent of church sign messages are lame. Don’t make it easy for unbelievers to make fun of your sign. Will the Lick Creek church listen? Of course not. Putting stupid ass messages and clichés on church signs is the in thing to do.
Movement Church, Glenwood Middle School, Findlay, Ohio, Eric Ferguson, lead pastor. Movement Church is a cool, hip Evangelical church for millennials (based on photos on the church’s website). According to Movement’s website, the church is:
a place for people to learn more about God, no matter what stage he or she is at in seeking God. The church places a strong emphasis on connecting to the community with outreach and volunteer projects.
Movement Church, similar to countless other Evangelical churches established over the past two decades, wants to put a friendly face on Christianity. However, as country folks will tell you, you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and Movement Church — based on their doctrinal statement — is no different theologically than nearby Fundamentalist churches Trinity Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church. Behind the nice smiles and promises of kindness and servanthood lies commitment to the inerrancy of scripture and the eternal damnation of all those who refuse to join the movement.
Faith Baptist Church, Ottawa, Ohio. No pastor name or website available.
Faith of the Apostles Church, Paw Paw, Michigan, David Harn, pastor. Faith of the Apostles periodically has a service called Jammin for Jesus — a diverse worship experience you won’t want to miss. According the church’s website, Faith of the Apostles members believe:
WE BELIEVE the Bible to be the infallible Word of God.
WE BELIEVE in JESUS ONLY, the visible expression of the invisible God.
WE BELIEVE in one God whose Name is JESUS, who is Father in Creation, Son in Redemption and Holy Ghost the Comforter.
WE BELIEVE in water baptism by immersion in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.
WE BELIEVE in receiving the Holy Ghost evidenced by speaking in other tongues as on the day of Pentecost.
WE BELIEVE in living a Holy and Sanctified life apart from which one cannot please God.
WE BELIEVE in the Rapture, when our Lord Jesus Christ will appear to catch away His Church.
WE BELIEVE in the Resurrection of the dead and the Final Judgment wherein all who were not in the first resurrection will be judged according to the deeds done in the body.
WE BELIEVE in a real HEAVEN with Eternal Life and a real HELL with Eternal Damnation.
Based on their statement of beliefs, I suspect Faith of the Apostles is some sort of Jesus-only apostolic or Pentecostal church.
Redeemer Covenant Church, Arlington, Ohio, Caleb Hackworth, pastor. Redeemer is a Reformed (Calvinistic) Baptist church affiliated with FIRE — Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals. Buzz words abound: Reformed, Baptistic, Congregational, Integrated Family Worship, Word of God Preached with Authority — Producing Real Worship and Community. The church is currently studying the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Redeemer is also a part of the Northwest Ohio Reformation Society and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Put it all together and what you end up with is a Calvinistic, Independent, theologically Fundamentalist Baptist church.
Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner (generally known as Marjoe Gortner; born January 14, 1944 in Long Beach, California) is a controversial former evangelist preacher and actor. He first gained public attention during the late 1940s when his parents arranged for him at age four to be ordained as a preacher, due to his extraordinary speaking ability; he was the youngest known in that position. As a young man, he preached on the revival circuit and bought celebrity to the revival movement.
He became a celebrity during the 1970s when he starred in Marjoe (1972), a behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. This won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. This documentary is now noted as one of the most vehement criticisms of Pentecostal praxis…
…Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner was born in 1944 in Long Beach, California, into a long evangelical heritage. The name “Marjoe” is a portmanteau of the biblical names “Mary” and “Joseph”. His father Vernon was a third-generation Christian evangelical minister who preached at revivals. His mother, who has been labelled as “exuberant”, was the person who introduced him as a preacher and is notable for his success as a child. Vernon noticed his son’s talent for mimicry and his fearlessness of strangers and public settings. His parents claimed that the boy had received a vision from God during a bath, and started preaching. Marjoe later said this was a fictional story that his parents forced him to repeat. He claimed they compelled him to do this by using mock-drowning episodes; they did not beat him as they did not want to leave bruises that might be noticed during his many public appearances.
They trained him to deliver sermons, complete with dramatic gestures and emphatic lunges. When he was four, his parents arranged for him to perform a marriage ceremony attended by the press, including photographers from Life and Paramount studios.Until his teenage years, Gortner and his parents traveled throughout the United States holding revival meetings, and by 1951 his younger brother Vernoe had been incorporated into the act. As well as teaching Marjoe scriptural passages, his parents also taught him several money-raising tactics, including the sale of supposedly “holy” articles at revivals. He would promise that such items could be used to heal the sick and dying. He was however for the majority of his childhood unknown and “relatively insignificant” as an evangelist, as he found fame much later from his documentary…
…Gortner spent the remainder of his teenage years as an itinerant hippie until his early twenties. Hard-pressed for money, he decided to put his old skills to work and re-emerged on the preaching circuit with a charismatic stage-show modeled after those of contemporary rock stars, most notably Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He made enough to take six months off every year, during which he returned to California and lived off his earnings before returning to the circuit.
In the late 1960s, Gortner experienced a crisis of conscience about his double life. He decided his performing talents might be put to better use as an actor or singer. When approached by documentarians Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, he agreed to let their film crew follow him during 1971 on a final tour of revival meetings in California, Texas, and Michigan. Unbeknownst to everyone involved – including, at one point, his father – he gave “backstage” interviews to the filmmakers between sermons and revivals, explaining intimate details of how he and other ministers operated. The filmmakers also shot his counting the money he had collected during the day later in his hotel room. The resulting film, Marjoe, won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary…
If you have not watched the documentary Marjoe, I encourage you to do so. While it is over forty years old, it still provides a behind the scenes look at what goes on in pentecostal and charismatic tent meetings, revivals, and healing services.
As a Baptist, I had a healthy mistrust and hate for all things pentecostal and charismatic. I saw their preachers as charlatans and false prophets. A good friend of mine and fellow non-believer was a charismatic pastor for twenty years. We never could have been friends while we were in the ministry because I thought people like him were being used by Satan to deceive the masses.
When it comes to stories like Marjoe, the question I have is whether the person was sincere. Were they a true blue believer? Did they really believe they could heal people? Did they really believe God used them to work miracles? In Marjoe’s case, he was conditioned and indoctrinated by his parents to believe that he really had these gifts. Were his parents true blue believers? That’s the bigger question. Were they just passing on the gifts to their talented, precocious son or were they con artists, Elmer Gantry-like hustlers for God?
Thanks to modern technology and dogged investigative reporters, we now know that many of the pentecostal and charismatic evangelists are frauds. People like Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Robert Tilton, WV Grant, Leroy Jenkins,Bob Larson, and Benny Hinn are hustlers out to fleece the flock of God. Many of the prosperity gospel preachers are con-artists who have found a way to become fabulously rich off the pain, suffering, and poverty of others. One quick way to judge an evangelist or ministry is to look at their checkbook. Where’s the money going? Whose being enriched by the “ministry” of Bro Heal Them All? In the case of Marjoe, not only did he make quite a bit of money, so did his parents. The family business was hustling for Jesus and it paid quite well. In the end, Marjoe’s father ran off with the cash and left his son and wife behind.
When I was in college, I cleaned a local Sweden House restaurant. One night, a couple of pentecostal evangelists had rented one of the banquet rooms for a healing service. After the service, not knowing I was standing around the corner, I heard the evangelists bitterly complaining about how poor the offering was. This was my first taste of money driven Christianity. As I would learn later, Baptists had their own problem with money-grubbing con-artists, men who preached up a storm only so it would rain twenty-dollar bills. I think the average Christian would be shocked to find out how many of the preachers they love, trust, and support are in it for fame and money. I know of several well known IFB preachers who retired from the ministry as millionaires. Ain’t God good?
In the mid 1970’s, I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. I worked for a local grocery store. Every week, several van loads of Pentecostals would come into Food Giant to shop. They were from Miracle Valley, Arizona, the home of evangelist AA Allen. Allen, an alcoholic died in 1970 after a heavy drinking binge. He was 59. The van loads of long dressed women were from one of the Miracle Valley pentecostal ministries or colleges. This was my first exposure to Pentecostals. At the time, I thought, nice looking women, too much clothing. My girlfriend, at the time, wore skirts and dresses that were in keeping with style of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s In other words, I could see her legs.
As I was doing some research for this post, I came upon an interesting story on Wikipedia about one of the pentecostal groups that took up residence in Miracle Valley:
In 1978-80 approximately 300 members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) moved from Mississippi and Chicago. They purchased property in the subdivision on the north side of Highway 92 across from the bible college. Thomas was a former disciple of Allen’s at MVBC and attempted to purchase it after his death. Over the following two years numerous conflicts arose between the church and its members, and the local community and law enforcement on the other. Tensions escalated when it was discovered that five young children of church members had died over the previous year, with one and possibly four due to the church’s refusal to seek medical attention. Faith healing was a major component of the church’s teachings. Conflicts also arose when the church refused access to parents and law enforcement in retrieving he children of at least two families who had been illegally transported to the Valley against their parents’ wishes. Racial tensions arose between the African American church members and the mostly white residents. In late 1982 a variety of incidents with law enforcement culminated when local sheriff deputies, with backup by state law enforcement, attempted to serve bench warrants for the arrest of 3 members of the church. A large group of church members confronted the officials and in the ensuing “shootout” two church members were killed and seven law enforcement officers were injured. One church member and one sheriff’s deputy would later die of their injuries. The church and its members departed Miracle Valley in early 1983.
My brother lives near Miracle Valley in Tombstone. He was, at one time, the marshal of Tombstone. He can tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of crazy that went on in out-of-the-way places in Cochise County, Arizona.
I attended a charismatic healing service in the mid 1980’s at the Somerset Elementary School in Somerset, Ohio. At the time, I was pastor of the Baptist church and I want to see firsthand what went on at a healing service. The show was quite intense and towards the end the evangelist started going down the rows laying hands on people. Next to me was an old scruffy woman with dirty and greasy hair. When the evangelist came to her, he looked at her head and kept his hand a few inches above it. Right then and there I knew that this guy was a con artist. What, a bit of greasy hair going to keep you from healing someone? When he came to me, I gave him my keep on moving look. I wonder, did I miss out on God healing me? Am I cursed with sickness to this day because I didn’t let Elmer Gantry’s cousin lay hands on me?
Here’s my take on Marjoe, pentecostal evangelists, and faith healers. I think some of them are true blue believers. Indoctrinated from an early age, they sincerely believe what they are preaching. When it comes to the money they make, they view it as God blessing them. But, I also think that a large number of preachers, evangelists, and faith healers are scam artists, frauds who have found a way to make lots of money without doing much work. They are, at best, entertainers, at worst they are predators who prey an ignorant, gullible Christians.
If you happened to watch the videos above and see the emotional craziness that went on at Marjoe’s meetings, I should let you know that I saw similar behavior at Baptist revival meetings, preacher’s meetings, camp meetings; especially those held south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only difference? Everyone spoke in English. I’ve seen aisle running, pew jumping, flag waving, shouting, and screaming at countless old-fashioned revivals or camp meetings. I’ve seen churches and preachers collect Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets of cash; thousands of dollars collected for “the Lord”,